I grew up in Shropshire in a very white and conservative community.
I went to an all-white school and the only other person that I knew who was not white was in fact my sister. I’m mixed race. My mother is Sicilian and my father Jamaican.
My first experience of racism was in primary school. It was a tiny institution in the countryside, and I was the only child there that was black. I say black because although I am of mixed heritage, the black is more significant than the white. I suffered abuse from children and teachers, it was an awful time in my life. I developed a stutter which meant that my education was stunted, and I didn’t learn basic life skills like spelling and numeracy.
I never thought I was different until I became aware of other people’s comments, micro aggressions like asking my mum "is she adopted?", "Can I touch her hair?", "Where is her dad from?," "Are you and her dad still together?" and many more.
They couldn't believe that my mum had married a black man. Let alone a Rastafarian. I am so grateful my parents taught me about both sides of my family. I developed my identity and learnt to be proud of who I am.
My parents used to take me to protests all the time. Every year I go to the National Women's Day march and I have attended other anti-racism marches. My dad used to work for Kick Racism Out of Football, so we used to go along with him. I was lucky to meet other children from Muslim and Jewish communities and I found they also had experienced racism and prejudice.
After I left rural England, I studied in Birmingham and later at the University of East London where I met some amazing people and realised there is so much more out there than the tiny place where I grew up.
Black Lives Matter By Mia Daliya Cunningham
Mia Cunningham is a third year BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Performance student at UEL.
Lockdown is so hard for performers and people who work as poets or artists. Because our whole way of working has had to change. I really thrive off observation and getting involved with the world. I felt disconnected. I felt like I was in a dystopian reality. I got a bit lost in it. I felt delirious and was unsure where everything was going. My plans were derailed. I was meant to graduate, and it was a strange time trying to image what would happen after lockdown and what life would be like. I learnt in lockdown that I just had to get on with what I aim to do. Which is to inspire people, to write and to get my voice out there in the hope that someone will listen. I became a young poet laureate when I was 14 so my title has helped me build lots of connections, meet people and work with poets, Holly McNish, Carol Ann Duffy.
The Black Lives Matter movement is one that is close to my heart and I knew I needed to do more than just sign petitions and donate. I created a poem and was invited to speak at the Black Lives Matter protest in Brighton where alongside 15,000 other people we came together for this worthy cause.
I have never experienced that kind of euphoria. People were clapping and jumping up and down. It was a unique feeling.